442 U.S. 477 (1979), 78-349, United States v. Helstoski

Docket Nº:No. 78-349
Citation:442 U.S. 477, 99 S.Ct. 2432, 61 L.Ed.2d 12
Party Name:United States v. Helstoski
Case Date:June 18, 1979
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 477

442 U.S. 477 (1979)

99 S.Ct. 2432, 61 L.Ed.2d 12

United States



No. 78-349

United States Supreme Court

June 18, 1979

Argued March 27, 1979




During an investigation by several federal grand juries of reported political corruption, including allegations that aliens had paid money for the introduction of private bills in Congress to suspend the application of the immigration laws to allow the aliens to remain in the United States, respondent, then a Member of the House of Representatives, appeared voluntarily before the grand juries on 10 occasions. He testified as to his practices in introducing private immigration bills, voluntarily produced his files on numerous private bills, [99 S.Ct. 2434] and provided copies of many such bills introduced on behalf of various aliens. Initially, respondent made no claim of privilege under the Fifth Amendment, but eventually invoked that privilege, as well as alluding to his privilege under the Speech or Debate Clause. Subsequently, respondent was indicted on charges of accepting money in return for being influenced in the performance of official acts, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 201. He moved in District Court to dismiss the indictment on the ground, inter alia, that it violated the Speech or Debate Clause. The District Court denied the motion, holding that the Clause did not require dismissal, but that the Government was precluded from introducing evidence of past legislative acts in any form. The Court of Appeals affirmed this evidentiary ruling, holding, contrary to the Government's arguments, that legislative acts could not be introduced to show motive, since otherwise the protection of the Speech or Debate Clause would be negated, and that respondent had not waived the protection of that Clause by testifying before the grand juries.

Held: Under the Speech or Debate Clause, evidence of a legislative act of a Member of Congress may not be introduced by the Government in a prosecution under 18 U.S.C. § 201. United States v. Brewster, 408 U.S. 501; United States v. Johnson, 383 U.S. 169. Pp. 487-494.

(a) While the exclusion of evidence of past legislative acts undoubtedly will make prosecutions more difficult, nevertheless, the Speech or Debate Clause was designed to preclude prosecution of Members for legislative acts. References to legislative acts of a Member cannot be admitted without undermining the values protected by that Clause. Pp. 488-489.

Page 478

(b) As to what restrictions the Clause places on the admission of evidence, the concern is with whether there is evidence of a legislative act; the protection of the Clause extends only to an act that has already been performed. A promise to deliver a speech, to vote, or to solicit other votes is not "speech or debate" within the meaning of the Clause, nor is a promise to introduce a bill at some future date a legislative act. Pp. 489-490.

(c) Respondent did not waive the protection of the Clause by testifying before the grand juries and voluntarily producing documentary evidence of legislative acts. Assuming, without deciding, that a Member of Congress may waive the Clause's protection against being prosecuted for a legislative act, such waiver could be found only after explicit and unequivocal renunciation of the protection. On this record, respondent's words and conduct did not constitute such a waiver; his exchanges with the attorneys for the United States indicated, at most, a willingness to waive the protection of the Fifth Amendment. Pp. 490-492.

(d) Nor does 18 U.S.C. § 201 amount to a congressional waiver of the protection of the Speech or Debate Clause. Assuming, arguendo, that Congress could constitutionally waive the protection of the Clause for individual Members, such waiver could be shown only by an explicit and unequivocal legislative expression, and there is no evidence of such a waiver. Pp. 492-493.

576 F.2d 511, affirmed.

BURGER, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which STEWART, J., joined, post, p. 494. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 498. POWELL, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

Page 479

BURGER, J., lead opinion

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.

We granted certiorari in this case to resolve important questions concerning the restrictions the Speech or Debate Clause1 places on the admissibility of evidence at a [99 S.Ct. 2435] trial on charges that a former Member of the House had, while a Member, accepted money in return for promising to introduce and introducing private bills.2


Respondent Helstoski is a former Member of the United States House of Representatives from New Jersey. In 1974, while Helstoski was a Member of the House, the Department of Justice began investigating reported political corruption, including allegations that aliens had paid money for the introduction of private bills which would suspend the application of the immigration laws so as to allow them to remain in this country.

The investigation was carried on before nine grand juries. The grand juries were called according to the regular practice in the District of New Jersey, which was to have a different grand jury sitting on each of six days during the week; on two days, there was a second grand jury. When the United States Attorney was ready to present evidence, he presented it to whichever grand jury was sitting that day. There was therefore no assurance that any grand jury which voted an indictment would see and hear all of the witnesses or see all of the documentary evidence. It was contemplated that the grand jury that was asked to return an indictment would review

Page 480

transcripts of relevant testimony presented to other grand juries.

Helstoski appeared voluntarily before grand juries on 10 occasions between April, 1974, and May, 1976. Each time he appeared, he was told that he had certain constitutional rights. Different terms were used by different attorneys for the United States, but the following exchange, which occurred at Helstoski's first appearance before a grand jury, fairly represents the several exchanges:

Q. You were told at that time [at the office of the United States Attorney earlier] -- and just to repeat them today -- before we begin, you were told that you did not have to give any testimony to the Grand Jury or make any statements to any officer of the United States. You understand that, do you not?

A. I come with full and unlimited cooperation.

Q. I understand that. . . .

* * * *

Q. And that you also know that anything that you may say to any agent of the United States or to this Grand Jury may later be used in a court of law against you; you understand that as well?

[Affirmative response given.]

A. Whatever is in my possession, in my files, in its original form, will be turned over. Those files which I have -- some of them are very, very old. I've been in Congress since 1965. We mentioned this.

* * * *

Q. The Grand Jury wants from you simply the records that are in your possession, whether it be in your office in East Rutherford, New Jersey, Washington, D. C., your home, wherever they may be, the Grand Jury would like you to present those documents. Of course, you understand

Page 481

that, if you wish not to present those documents, you do not have to, and that anything you do present may also, as I have told you about your personal testimony, may be used against you later in a court of law?

A. I understand that. Whatever I have will be turned over to you with full cooperation of [sic] this Grand Jury and with yourself, sir.

* * * *

[99 S.Ct. 2436]

A. I understand that. I promise full cooperation with your office, with the FBI, this Grand Jury.

Q. The Grand Jury is appreciative of that fact. They also want to make certain that, when you are giving this cooperation, that you understand, as with anyone else that might be called before a United States Grand Jury, exactly what their constitutional rights are. And that is why I have gone through this step by step carefully, so there will be no question and there will be no doubt in anybody's mind.

A. As I indicated, I come with no request for immunity, and you can be assured there won't be any plea of the Fifth Amendment under any circumstances.

Helstoski testified as to his practices in introducing private immigration bills, and he produced his files on numerous private bills. Included in the files were correspondence with a former legislative aide and with individuals for whom bills were introduced. He also provided copies of 169 bills introduced on behalf of various aliens.

Beginning with his fourth appearance before a grand jury, in October, 1975, Helstoski objected to the burden imposed by the requests for information. The requests, he claimed, violated his own right of privacy and that of his constituents. In that appearance, he also stated that there were "some serious Constitutional questions" raised by the failure of the United States Attorney to return tax records which Helstoski had voluntarily delivered. He did not, however, assert a privilege

Page 482

against producing documents until the seventh appearance, on December 12, 1975. Then he declined to answer questions, complaining that the United States Attorney had stated to the District Court that the grand jury had concluded that Helstoski had misapplied campaign funds. He asserted a general invocation of rights under the Constitution and specifically listed the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments.

At the next, and eighth, appearance on December 29, 1975, he repeated his objections to the conduct of the United States Attorney. After...

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